The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is standing by recent testing that detected sub-traces of asbestos in Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder, even as the healthcare products giant works to discredit those findings with testing of its own.
The FDA informed Johnson & Johnson nearly two weeks ago that it had detected asbestos in a single bottle of Baby Powder purchased online. The talcum powder asbestos findings prompted the company to recall 33,0000 bottles of Baby Powder in the United States as a precautionary measure.
Late yesterday, Johnson & Johnson announced that third-party laboratories had found no trace of asbestos in the same bottle of Baby Powder tested by the FDA. But an agency official told Reuters those findings weren’t surprising, as asbestos would not disperse evenly through talc. Different testing methods could also produce contradictory results.
Johnson & Johnson “would say the product is free of asbestos based on their testing, and we would say the opposite for that sample,” said Steve Musser, deputy director for scientific operations in FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
The FDA’s talcum powder asbestos test was conducted by AMA Analytical Services Inc., a private lab run by Andreas Saldivar. Ironically, Saldivar has also served as a paid expert for Johnson & Johnson since 2017, testifying during several talcum powder trials that the company’s body powders were asbestos-free.
“This is bad news for J&J,” one legal expert told Reuters. “The plaintiffs are clearly going to say this lab director worked for J&J for years, and he found asbestos so there must be asbestos there.”
Johnson & Johnson is currently defending thousands of talcum powder lawsuits in courts around the United States, the majority of which claim asbestos-tainted talc caused ovarian cancer or mesothelioma. Plaintiffs and defendants have each won their share of verdicts since cases began going to trial, while several other juries deadlocked. Johnson & Johnson has been successful in appealing jury awards, and continues its efforts to have other talcum powder verdicts overturned.
Last December, Reuters reported that Johnson & Johnson’s raw talc and finished powders had, in fact, periodically tested positive for traces of asbestos since the 1970s. While the tests concerned many at Johnson & Johnson, internal documents suggest they chose not to warn the public out of concern that asbestos findings would undermine the company’s “caring” image.
Earlier this month, researchers at Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research in Manhasset, New York, reported that they had detected asbestos fibers in the tissue of several mesothelioma patients. All were long-time talcum powder users and could not have been exposed to asbestos in any other way. The asbestos found in their tissue was also the same type usually seen in talc, and not commonly used in commercial applications.
In addition to the mounting litigation, Johnson & Johnson has also received subpoenas from the U.S. Justice Department and U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission related to asbestos and talcum powder.